Disney's Florida parks continue to stuggle under threat of war

Posted | Contributed by Jeff

Never fully recovered from the attendance dip that followed the Sept. 11-induced tourism slowdown 11/2 years ago, Disney's Florida parks now face even smaller crowds with the prospect of war with Iraq so close. That comes on top of an attendance dip in February blamed on the federal government's decision to raise the terrorist threat to Code Orange and snowstorms that shut down airports in the Northeast.

Read more from AP via USA Today.

At a time like this the local visitors really help a lot. Sea World is the most popular park among the locals and the new shopping and dining complex is mainly aimed at the locals.

Maybe Disney should stop pointing fingers and put some of the blame on themselves. The fact is that they haven't produced any great new attractions in quite a while. They have 4 parks and still operate them like they are stuck in the stone ages. The new Mission:Space ride better be good because right now IOA and Universal are getting a lot more popular.

Take Winnie the Pooh compared to Cat in the Hat. They both opened about the same time. CITH is so much better and more fun. Disney needs to get out of that cardboard cutout look in their rides and get more technologically advanced rides like Spiderman. Even MIB at Universal Studios is more fun than just about every ride at Disney. The only awesome ride in Disney IMO is Tower of Terror. Rn'R coaster is good but TOT is really the kind of imagination Disney needs to follow up on. Epcot is very outdated and as our society becomes more advanced the park is looking more and more like our current world, not the future world.

Universal set new records for single day telephone and internet vacation package sales last week. This was mainly due to the new commercials they just came out with(which are VERY good).

I'm not trying to make this a Disney vs. Universal topic but am just pointing out how with all the war scenarios and economy issues one park is thriving while the other is tanking.

Disney needs to focus on the local dollar versus the tourist dollar. We leanred this last year when all the "destination" theme parks' attendance was declining, yet Holiday World saw record attendance.

The major reason most locals do not go to Disney is the ticket price. Universal offers special rates for FL residents throughout the year on one-day and season passes. Sea World offers the "buy one day, come for the rest of the year" deal.

The only thing Disney offers is "Spend 4 days for $100" to Fl residents during certain non-peak periods. These periods used to offer a one-day deal for about $25, but they changed it to the multi-day offer several years ago. I would definately check out the Disnye parks once or twice a yr if they offered a $25 park hopper, but I refuse to pay $100 to go for a certain period, and lose the days I don't use. I feel that many residents feel the same way too. In fact, the only time I go to Disney is if I get in free, or for theit Not-So-Scary Halloween event at the MK every October. If you haven't been to it before, it's definately worth the $25 admission for the MK w/ no lines and free candy all night!

-Matt "Yes, I'm bitter at Disney, but would still pay $25 for one day" D.

Jeff's avatar
I agree that Tower of Terror is the only "gee whiz" attraction they've created in a long time, and it's far from new. I don't dislike Disney, but they need to step it up.

Jeff - Webmaster/Admin - CoasterBuzz.com - Sillynonsense.com
"The world rotates to The Ultra-Heavy Beat!" - KMFDM

They need a good heavily themed hyper coaster loaded with airtime.
Jeff's avatar
I don't think so. You're thinking like an enthusiast. The general public wouldn't care. That doesn't capture the imagination like ToT does.

Jeff - Webmaster/Admin - CoasterBuzz.com - Sillynonsense.com
"The world rotates to The Ultra-Heavy Beat!" - KMFDM

I would have thought that maybe part of the problem is the branding of the main parks. It seems a long time since the Disney studios had a massive hit movie that captured the publics imagination in the same way as the older films. The pixar movies don't seem to have the same status in the parks as the older style cartoons. Look at Universal and you have Spiderman, the Incredible Hulk to name just two which are red hot at the moment due to the blockbuster movies both past and present. Perhaps if Disney had a couple of massive hit movies and really capitalised on them in the parks with attractions worth making a return visit for, then perhaps a turnaround would begin.
The non-official Disney sites give some insight to it. Even though i think a much of it is written by over-critical obsessive people who have nothing else to do but nitpick, they do offer some valid reasons.

What Disney does now is dictated almost 100% by how they think it will affect their stock prices (and the high management's bonuses). Things are done with the short run in mind, tight budget projects and cost cutting which do nothing but deteoriate the Disney experience. Think about it, Walt had just about all his cash tied up in Disneyland originally. He did things right and it paid off.

2 of the Florida parks are half-parks. Same for DCA. Some interesting reading on the Japan park vs the US Magic Kingdoms. The Winnie the Pooh ride was one. In Japan, its a very technologically advance ride with self guided cars (not tracks). The US versions were budget based. The Japan parks are not owned by Disney, but a license agreement for the corp that built the parks from what i understand.....

Another thing that was pointed out is the total saturation of Disney now. Disney used to be a special experiences. 2 theme parks worldwide. One show on Sundays. Merchandise only available at the parks. Disney channel, Disney store in malls, more parks worldwide have diminished the exclusitivity.

Another thing is that they are making everything character based to sell more tshirts and mugs. They are talking about putting a Stitch character in the remodeling of Space Mt in CA. Why? Little kids are not tall enough to ride the ride? Its an attempt to sell more merchandise. They changed Swiss Family Robinson treehouse to Tarzan treehouse, and are talking about doing away with the name Tom Sawyer Island. Swiss Family Robinson and Tom Sawyer do not sell shirts.....While Disney was founded on their characters, Disneyland was a correct mix of characters and themed lands to take you away from the real world and put you into another place and time. It has now become for the most part a festival to market their latest characters/films, like Paramount does so poorly.

Point of all this is, the Disney experience is not as high quality as it was 20 years ago, and with that, people are MUCH less likely to go to the expense to have that experience now (and it is MUCH more expensive than it was 20 years ago).

They do make valid points about Disney being so short-term, stock price oriented, its really starting to show in their performance now.

Jeff's avatar
I agree about the over-analyzing, but that's just about it. The attraction is in the creation of "magic," plain and simple. Characters and merchandise have been around for ages, and have nothing to do with it. The names can change, but the game hasn't... it's still about the "feel."

The Haunted Mansion is a classic example. As old as that ride is, it still creates a lot of "magic," whether it be the dancing ghosts in the ballroom or the face in the crystal ball. It's high on the gee-whiz factor. Heck, much of the stuff in Epcot, when it opened, was rich in that feeling as well. We can only hope that Mission: Space is going to bring that trend back.

Jeff - Webmaster/Admin - CoasterBuzz.com - Sillynonsense.com
"The world rotates to The Ultra-Heavy Beat!" - KMFDM

What's Moosh's quote about hypercoasters? Isn't it something along the lines of "a park without a hypercoaster is like a fish without a bicycle."

Track Record: 164
Favorite Wood: Phoenix at Knoebels
Favorite Steel: Millennium Force at Cedar Point

A hyper coaster at Disney is extremely unlikely. They think of themselves as more than just a park "bending steel." Stitch is the perfect character to give them the "fun" back. He's a lively character that both kids and adults like.

Universl Studios has Jimmy Neutron and Shrek rides lined up for this year. They also have a coaster themed to the Mummy movie that is already under construction for next year. THAT is what you do to stay current. I don't really like US but at least they are doing things to get people through the door. I will gladly pay to take my kids to the Shrek and Jimmy Neutron rides. Even for myself I would like to see the Shrek ride and ride the Mummy coaster.

Disney has a great atmosphere and they are capable of great things. I know they have the personnel to create really cool rides. AK is only popular because it feeds from the other parks. It's not that good and Busch Gardens is MUCH. better. I know Universal does the same thing but it is quickly going to become a destination spot on it's own as the word is getting out.

Where are the Disney discounts? They even made cancelled that Disney Club discount card and are making people pay for it now. They've also discontinued many of the really good discounts that were on that card.

Disney has beautiful parks and hotels and I will be the first in line for an annual pass as soon as they start doing things to deserve my business instead of expecting me to show up because of their reputation and name. Until then I will go once a year with my kids and buy annual passes for the parks that I really like to visit often: Busch Gardens, Sea World, and Universal Orlando.

Well, Disney has never had a hypercoaster and all of their parks are in the top 10 list for attendance. A coaster won't make a big difference.

I don't totally agree with the need to draw the local market. There are 60,000 plus employees at WDW. A good percentage of people in Orlando likely know someone that works at WDW that can get them in for free. Those people that don't will buy Disney's relatively reasonable annual passes.

If Disney-MGM is a half day park then so too is IOA. There aren't any more attractions at one vs. the other. The difference is that IOA is still the new kid on the block (with the exception of AK which I would agree is still a half-day park).

The biggest problem for WDW will be airline travel. Airlines themselves are telling us a war is going to push many of them to the brink of bankruptcy. If people aren't flying then they aren't likely going to be heading to Florida from abroad or here in the states. In addition, Disney has counted on the convention business and has built their hotel businees on the back of conventions. Companies are more likely going to stay near home now with war looming and the economy tanking.

While I would agree that Disney needs to reinvent itself by creating "wow" attractions (of which Mission: Space may be the new breed) that is a minor problem in the ills of Disney right now. Much of what is happening, Disney has no control over.

Gee whiz, I frickin' fell in love with California Screamin' and Soarin' Over California which opened in 2001. Grizzly River Rapids and Rock N Roller Coaster were pretty sweet as well. I thought Winnie the Pooh and CITH were equally amusing. Even if MIB is more fun that a lot of Disney attractions, there isn't any other attraction at USF I would care to reride or rewatch on the same visit. I barely even like to revisit that park in particular.

I had a group of friends that visited WDW in February and almost all of them said their favorite park was Epcot even though they loved them all.

Disney studios had a fairly massive hit with Lilo & Stitch and I've heard they are doing a few things with it. So, you can look forward to that.

And when you say "Disney" as a whole, don't forget Tokyo DisneySea. Not that it really counts or anything since it's not in the United States. What a lack of creativity they have! ;)

-Danny, whose only major problem with Disney are their low quality direct-to-video sequels ;)

I think the "bean counters" are the problem for disney!!! They have been using the theme parks as a cash cow to finance the other aspects of the business that have tanked. Disney has been unwilling to spend their own money to create "e" ticket attractions. They have been content to live of their laurels and all the diehard fans who will buy what ever they are given. A hyper coaster while nice isnt needed at disney. What they need is an attractions up to the quality and being as immersive as a TOT or Indiana Jones at DL. This can be done but under eisner their is no will to do so and may not happen till he is gone which will hopefully happen soon.
Mamoosh's avatar
As Clinton once said: "Its the economy, stupid!"

With war looming, the threat of terrorism, and the economy in the dumps people are going to stay closer to home. Given the choice between going to Orlando and paying for airline tickets, a hotel, and a car most families are going to drive down the road to their local amusement park and have a day or two of fun.

Look for regional parks to see another increase, even if only slight, in attendance this year.

Moosh - works in the travel industry

Happy Birthday DawnMarie!!

*** This post was edited by Mamoosh 3/13/2003 6:56:18 PM ***

rollergator's avatar
I'll buy this and that occasionally, but by and large...."Winners don't need excuses"...;)

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